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Kristallnacht-The Night of Broken Glass

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Kristallnacht was a Nazi pogrom (violent riot or mob attack) lasting less than 24 hours against the Jews that occurred in November, 1938 in Germany, Austria and Sudetenland. The German Chief of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, with Adolf Hitler’s approval announced the beginning of this attack to punish the Jews and force them out of Germany.. The Germans blamed the Jewish people for an early end of WWI in1918 and the economic hardships that followed the war. From late in the evening on November 9th, 1938 through midday on the 10th, synagogues, shops, homes, hospitals and cemeteries were destroyed by German storm troopers, Hitler Youth and mobs of non-Jewish citizens.

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In addition to many men, women and children being brutalized, more than 100 Jews were killed during Kristallnacht. The Nazis also arrested 10,000s of Jews and put them in concentrations camps. Kristallnacht became known as “The Night of Broken Glass” because the streets were littered with glass from all of the destroyed buildings.

Jewish homes and businesses were easily singled out during the attack because they all were marked with the yellow Star of David.

Over 8000 buildings were damaged and looted in the riot. The pogrom was especially destructive in Berlin and Vienna, the two largest Jewish communities under German control. The rioters destroyed 267 synagogues throughout Germany and Austria. Many synagogues burned throughout the night in full view of the public because local firefighters did nothing. They only prevented German-owned buildings from burning down. It was understood that anyone, Jew or non-Jew, who spoke out against the Kristallnacht was to be beaten and thrown in jail.

Kristallnacht lasted less than 24 hours, however, the violence against the Jews had only just begun. 100,000 Jews were arrested and 30,000 of which were thrown into concentration camps. Two thousand of these prisoners which were mostly men aged 16 to 60 died in the camps. There were so many prisoners that the concentration camps at Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen had to be expanded. Kristallnacht marks the first time the Nazi’s imprisoned the Jews on a large scale simply because of their ethnicity. This was the turning point in Nazi Germany’s persecution of the Jews and was an important prelude to the Holocaust.

Kristallnacht did not simply happen. It was something that developed over a 20 year period and reached a peak under Hitler’s Nazi rule. Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. This brought an end to German democracy. The official name for Nazi Germany was the Third Reich, or empire. Hitler referred to the Nazi reign as the 1000 year Reich. According to Hitler, the only thing standing in the way of a 1000 year rule was the Jews. The Germans blamed the Jews for an early end to WWI in 1918 and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The treaty required that Germany accept responsibility for causing the war, disarm the militaries, give up land and pay heavy reparations. The Germans also blamed the Jews for the terrible depression that followed the war. The Nazis believed that the Aryan race was a master race over all other races. The Nazis believed that they could maintain their dominance only if the Aryans were pure. They claimed that Jews were an inhuman parasitic race and wanted them out of Germany. Beginning in 1933, the German government passed anti-Jewish laws restricting the rights of German Jews. The 1935 Nuremberg Laws stripped Jews of their citizenship and prevented Jews from marrying non-Jewish Germans. The Nazis even announced a one-day boycott of Jew-owned businesses. Jewish children were restricted from attending German schools.

The first attacks on German Jews occurred soon after the construction of the first concentration camp in Dachau, Germany. Their initial policy was to bully the German Jews into emigrating. Unfortunately for the Jews, it was not easy for them to find other countries willing to take them in. In order to emigrate a person had to have a job as well as a place to live. This was particularly hard for older Jews. In 1934 and 1935 signs reading, “Jews not wanted” started to appear in hotels, theaters, sports stadiums and restaurants. Germany soon became a place where Jews were often subjected to random harassment and arrests. The Nazi’s slowed down their persecution of the Jews around the summer Olympics in Berlin in 1936. Hitler tried to shelter the world from the cruel treatment of the Jews. By 1938, Germany had taken over Austria and a region of Europe called the Sudetenland. On October 28, 1938, the German police arrested 17,000 Jews originally from Poland. The Nazis transported them against their will by trains to the border between Poland and Germany. Poland didn’t want them either so they were put into a “relocation camp,” along the border of the two countries without their belongings, adequate food, water or medical attention. Herschel Grynszpan, a 17 year old Jew living in Paris, shot and killed a German diplomat at the German Embassy in Paris on October 31, 1938. This was retaliation for the poor treatment his family suffered by being expelled from Germany. Grynspan’s parents were Polish and had lived in Germany since about 1910. The date of the assassination was important to the Nazis for two reasons. First, it was the 20th anniversary of the Jew’s involvement in the end of WWI and the treaty of Versailles.

Germans often refer to this as “the stab in the back.” Secondly, It was the 15th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch or rebellion when Hitler and the Nazi party tried to overthrow the German government in 1923. The assassination gave the Nazis what they thought was a valid reason to start the brutal and destructive pogrom, Kristallnacht. Hitler and Goebbels used the shooting in Paris to provide an opportunity to get Germans to unite and “rise in bloody vengeance against the Jews.” Thousands of Jews died in the concentration camps as a result of the brutal treatment they endured following Kristallnacht. In contrast to the Holocaust, most of the Jews were released over the next three months on the condition that they would begin the process of emigration from Germany. The German government pronounced that the Jews themselves were to blame for the pogrom fined the Jewish people one billion Reich mark (400 million U.S. dollars at 1938 rates). The Nazis confiscated all of the insurance money that the Jews were suppose to receive to repair and rebuild their lives.

Following Kristallnacht, the German government made dozens of new laws designed to deprive Jews of their property and a way to earn money. Most Jewish businesses were transferred to Aryan citizens for a fraction of their actual value. German education officials expelled Jewish children still attending German schools. Jews lost their right to hold a driver’s license or own an automobile. Jews could no longer go to German theaters, movies or concert halls. Jews were forbidden to walk on most streets or go to many parts of Berlin. The Jewish people who lived on the banned streets were told to pack their bags and find a new place to live. Kristallnacht represented one of the most important turning points in the Nazi reign. The Nazi reign knew the German citizens were ready to accept more violence against the Jews because of their acceptance of Kristallnacht. The reaction outside Germany to Kristallnacht was shock and outrage. Hitler’s actions caused Germany to be isolated from most of the rest of the world. The United States recalled its ambassador permanently after learning of the pogrom.

The American public knew what was happening in Germany. Detailed reports about Kristallnacht appeared on the front pages of the newspapers all over the United States. Some newspapers had difficulty believing that the Nazis were motivated by hatred of Jews. A New York Times story said that the Hitler’s real motive was money, “that the purpose of the violence was to “make a profit for itself out of legalized loot.” The Baltimore Sun said the pogrom was a “money collecting enterprise.” Unfortunately, there were only verbal statements made against Hitler and the Nazi regime. The world stood by and simply watched. Other countries did not make it easier for Jews to immigrate. The free world’s lack of response to Kristallnacht allowed Nazi Germany to initiate a larger plan, the “Final Solution,” or Holocaust. The Holocaust was the annihilation of 2/3 (6 million) of the European Jewish population and any other individuals that the Germans believed to be inferior.


1. Gilbert, Martin. Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. 2. Fitzgerald, Stephanie. Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2008. 3. Schwab, Gerald. The Day the Holocaust Began: The Odyssey of Herschel Grynszpan. New York: Praeger, 1990. 4. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/kristallnacht.html 5. http://fcit.usf.edu/holocaust/timeline/KMap.htm

6. http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/holoprelude/kristallnacht.html 7. http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/focus/kristallnacht/

Cite this Kristallnacht-The Night of Broken Glass

Kristallnacht-The Night of Broken Glass. (2016, Nov 18). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/kristallnacht-the-night-of-broken-glass/

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